Tell me about your culture

My classmate waved “Hi!” as I entered my class and got myself settled. He turned around after a while and said “I notice you are in your Indian regalia. Are you celebrating anything?”. The first thought that crossed my mind was “regalia??”. I was wearing a silk kurthi and a bindi on my forehead. This is my regular work wear most days. With or without the bindi. I was about to say “Nothing!” then realized it was Deepavali a couple of days back and I did get this kurthi specifically for the festival. May be I was celebrating. πŸ™‚

I then launched into a spiel on the various stories behind Deepavali and how it signifies triumph of good over evil and in other ways the start of something new. Something good. Not sure how I went from there to a dissertation on what I thought was “my culture”. By the time I was done, he was nodding at appropriate places and then said “Thanks!” and went back to his book.

Then my mind did what it does best. Replay the conversation. I was mortified at what I had done. I have no clue how he perceived it but I felt I had a condescending tone when I was talking about the richness of our tradition.

I thought I was not biased and appreciated the good in each of our lives. The eagerness with which I poured out information about Deepavali and how I likened it with Christmas suddenly seemed like a bad idea.

Has it ever happened to you? When you realize hidden prejudices right when you are talking and feel yourself turn a deep red in shame?

9 comments

  1. I have done that many a times. In the sense gone on about our culture or traditions when asked about it. Made comparisons with things the other person might relate to. I have been asked quite a few times about the bindi -I almost always wear one (feel I look sickly without it πŸ˜‰ …well more sick πŸ˜€ )One thing I do though is to make it really short and crisp; try make it a conversation than a discourse if you get the drift. Don’t ask me how I did it…it just came πŸ˜€
    And Laksh, you don’t need to feel mortified…that person asked for it πŸ™‚

  2. Why do you think like that Laksh? I am sure he would have been delighted to hear such beautiful history. I bet he would be talking about you to lots of his friends, about the traditions of Diwali, it is all in the mind you know….you are proud of your culture, you show it. Just like he would. I have always found that talking of my culture is the best conversation starter….people are curious you know…so my two cents, open yourself and your world to others and they will open their worlds to you…distance is in the mind, in the heart of hearts we are all similar. BTW, I havent had a chance to comment on many of your posts as some I caught up quick…but glad to see your spirits are lifting(you sounded a little down in the last post or two). I have to point out that your photograph as a ten year old, absolutely sweet….I loved the sepia kind of look and you still carry that childhood innocense. Keep looking like this, don’t let the troubles of the world touch you. Also the post on K, how he opens doors for you… πŸ™‚ I couldn’t help see it all in my mind’s eye… you two are so good together…here’s to many more treats from your hubby…:)

  3. Laksh-

    I am afraid to say that I am the other way around in this situation. Meaning, I justify having to celebrate Halloween and Thanksgiving and not Deepavali ): Many times, I feel I enjoy these traditions more than some of the Indian ones, though varalakshmi nombu, navarathri kinda religious festivals appeal more to me than Deepavali. Also, I don’t feel proud of keeping a bindi here in US, especially when I go to work (I work with mostly white folks), but on a visit to temple or while wearing salwar (a thing that I’ve never worn and will wear to work) I keep bindi to go with the attire. I feel that I have to blend in with the crowd here and as it is my braided hair and appearance don’t give me that adavantage. Just my feelings.

  4. I am with UL on this one – I don’t think you need to feel mortified. He is probably richer with the knowledge that he gained from you regarding Indian culture and the likes. I have seen many people here who are interested (and reasonably knowledgeable too) in our culture and have lots of more curious questions.

    As Mitr said I almost always wear jeans to work and hence no bindi – and no such questions cometh πŸ™‚

  5. Ladies,
    I always wear a bindi. though I have to say it out for people to realize that I am wearing one. But I have never quite figured out why people says Jeans & bindi don’t go well. I feel Bindi is too small to make a difference. And again, nobody keeps a dime sized bindi anyway.
    Laksh,
    Condescending tone just for him or was it in your mind as well? The former I end up doing without realizing when I try to make my culture more palpable for somebody else but if it is the later…

  6. I agree with Akay and UL. I mean he asked for it. And why should’nt we be proud of our culture and talk about it when somebody asks? Just because we are proud of ours, does not mean we are demeaning other people’s culture. Infact when people see that you have and believe in your culture, they respect you more.

  7. Sachita’s comment reminded me of an incident – I usually wear kumkum or kungumam in the morn when I light the Swamy lamp (aka lamp in front of the God) – usually keep this on my forehead right where the hairline starts and neck. By the time I change my dress and get to work, it is long gone but one day apparently the remnants of it was still there. My colleague (a Vietnamese) walked into my office and had an alarming look on her face the moment she looked at me. She mistook the kumkum for blood and got scarred that I was bleeding from my forehead πŸ™‚ We had a good laugh about it a little later.

  8. It is natural to talk about something you are passionate about. But there are few incidents of ‘indian culture talks’ where I have given them ( atlest I felt that way) more that they asked for.

    shy

  9. @Apar: I get what you are saying. I guess what I was trying to say is that sometimes we go on and on (at least in our minds) and then suddenly stop wondering if we spoke too much.
    @UL: Will remind myself of it πŸ™‚ trouble is sometimes I get too carried away by the pride within. Thank you for the compliment on the photo. As for K and I, I think the same of M and you. πŸ™‚
    @Mitr: I can understand what you say. I agree too. I have no issues wearing desi clothes or wearing bindi because in my mind no matter what I do to blend in, I cannot change the fact that I am brown. So, rather than blend in, I tend to stand out. Kind of wear my identity on my sleeve. I guess it helps that I work for a firm that does not enforce a dress code. As an aside, I don’t wear the bindi because I think of it as a cultural thing. I just wear it cos K likes the look of me with my bindi on rather than not. I humor him once in a while πŸ™‚
    @Akay: I think he asked me cos I was wearing a bright red silk kurthi that was unmistakeably desi in appearance. That combined with the bindi probably gave off a festive vibe.
    @sachita: The condescension just seeemed to be in my mind. Rather as an afterthought. The kind of voice that rises in pride when talking of our customs and tradition. I think unknowingly I was thinking in my mind. “We have a rich culture. You have no clue of what am talking about..”
    Re: bindi. I feel no connection between bindi and jeans. Rather with what I wear on top of my jean. A white tee definitely does not go with a bindi. A silk kurthi on the other hand does. πŸ™‚
    @naan: I agree. I think it was all in my mind.
    @Akay: I can relate to that only too well. Happened when I was a teller in a bank here. The customer looked mortified at the redness at my hairline parting.
    @Shy: You get what I was saying. Its funny how we think about it long after the conversation is over.

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